Sunday, March 27, 2016

Four Ways to Draw Closer to God in College: Easter Edition

Before I provide my Easter homily for Easter afternoon, I want to say one thing: I am very grateful for the opportunity to be surrounded by such a great community. The BU Catholic Center Community helps me to grow closer to Jesus. At the end of the Sacred Triduum, my heart is filled with gratitude for the opportunity to be the shepherd of this community. I love them. I really love them. And, I am grateful that they help me to follow Christ. Whatever I say that is helpful about being a disciple---it is only because Jesus has helped me by providing such great witnesses in my own life. I really love the people that Jesus has given me.

Easter Sunday Afternoon Homily:

So often--especially during this Lent--I meet people who, each in their own way, express their earnest desire to grow closer to God. "I want to be close to God, but I don't know how."  Again and again, I people your age express a recognition that life without God is empty, that it leads nowhere. In so many conversations, people  have expressed a hunger, a yearning for a deeper relationship with God.  

Our chapel is filled this morning.  All of you are here because you have recognized in your life a desire, a need, for a deeper relationship with God. Some of you came here on Ash Wednesday and Lent with this desire. Perhaps you've lived Lent really well, growing closer to the Lord day by day.  Or, maybe you started with big plans, but didn't quite make it. Some of you perhaps didn't just fall short on your Lenten intentions. Perhaps you made a complete mess of Lent. Maybe you feel further away from God than you did when you began Lent.  No matter where you fall in the spectrum, you are here today. You are here because you want God.

The Gospel on Easter Sunday afternoon is the Road to Emmaus.  In this Gospel, Jesus provides four ways to help us to grow closer to Him.

Firstly, each of the disciples had a desire.  This desire is indispensable.  They were taking life seriously. They were discussing serious things. In the face of Jesus' death, they wanted to understand reality. They were confronting the difficult questions about suffering, evil, and death. What is the meaning of it all?  So often, in front of the bigger questions of life, it is easy to run away. Instead of being faithful to those questions that arise in the depths of our souls, we distract ourselves. We run away from these questions and live shallow lives. We throw ourselves into a million distractions in order to avoid being faithful to the desire in our hearts. We want to understand life, to know what the deeper meaning of reality is. We desire to understand God's plan for our life. And yet, to do this, we have to work at it. So often, we are unfaithful to this desire.  But this desire is indispensable.  The fact that you are all here today says that you have this desire. You desire a closeness with God.

Secondly, the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus had each other. It is so important to have friends who help us to be faithful to this desire in our heart. It is so important to have companions on the road who help us to live life seriously.  These two disciples were walking along and discussing all that had happened. Together, they were trying to comprehend reality. 

So often, I hear from students, "I used to have a great relationship with God, but then I came to college and none of my friends here go to church. All of my friends live a very hedonistic life. And so, it's really hard for me to stay close to God because God isn't important to my friends."  Now, I'm sorry, but I've got something to tell you hat might be difficult to hear! But, I'm not telling you anything you don't already know. I'm just telling you what you've already realized. You need to surround yourself with friends who help you to grow closer to God. You need a companion on the road.  I'm betting for some of you, that person is sitting right next to you in this chapel?  Right?  Maybe they coaxed you into coming to Mass today. They dragged you here. That's the person! Stay close to that person! A true friend helps us to encounter Jesus. A true friend isn't the person who helps us to escape from asking the serious questions and from living life with seriousness. The true friend is the one who helps us to grow closer to Christ.  Those two disciples were helping each other to grow closer to God. Want to grow closer to God? Find friends who will help you.  

I've been at this Catholic thing for a good amount of years. And I'm a priest. Maybe you might think, "Ah, he's a priest. He doesn't know how hard it is." But I do. Left to myself, I can be totally shallow. I need friends who help me. I need friends who encourage me to pray. I need friends to help me to be faithful to that desire to be closer to Christ. There is a great Catholic community here at BU. Be a part of it!

Thirdly, on the road, we are told that Jesus approached them and, after they told him what they were discussing, he began to explain the scriptures to them. In the Word of God, we come to understand the meaning of things. In His Word, God reveals not only His plan for the world, but also His plan for our life. When we listen to the Word of God, we learn how much God loves us, how much He desires us, and all that He has done for us. This is especially true when we hear the Word of God proclaimed at Mass. Also, there are Catholic bible studies all over this campus. Young men and women come together--like those two disciples on the Road to Emmaus--and they listen to the Word of God and they draw closer to Christ. If you want to grow closer to God, draw closer to the Word of God.

Fourthly, one of my favorite lines in the Gospel is contained in today's Gospel. As evening draws close, Jesus acts as though he were leaving them, but the two disciples beg him to stay. "Remain with us!" they cry out.  There is that desire! A common desire shared between them. They recognize that something is happening in them. Something great.  And so they beg the Lord to stay. And then, when they sit down to eat, he blesses and breaks the bread and then their eyes are opened and they recognize the Lord. Then he vanishes from their sight.  If we want to be close to the Lord, be close to the Eucharist.  There is no way for us to be any closer to God than to receive Him in the Eucharist. The Eucharist is His Risen Body and Blood. If you want to be close to God, you need to be close to His Body, the Eucharist.  You know this already. I'm not telling you something that you don't know already.

I'm not speaking to you as an expert who is removed from the experience of needing Christ. I am one of you. I am telling you these things because they are true. We all need to desire God. We all need good friends who help us to pursue God. We all need to hear the voice of Christ in the Scriptures. We all need the Body of Christ, the Eucharist.  I need these things. You need these things.

You want a closer relationship with God. I know it is hard to believe, but He desires a relationship with you infinitely more.  He loves you. He wants your happiness. He wants to give you everything that you desire and more.  

Without Him, life is empty. Without him, life is without meaning and purpose. Without Him, we try to escape into distractions, pleasures, and power.  But, He is risen.  Yes, He is truly Risen.

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